The renovated Soldiers and Sailors will include a Tribute Wall for military personnel and veterans. The 1919 structure was dedicated to World War I veterans.

Union College has a campaign under way to honor veterans, active servicemen and fallen war heroes while at the same raising money to renovate Union’s Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Gymnasium in Barbourville.

The gymnasium was built in 1919, just as World War I drew to a close, to serve as a gymnasium for Union students. In the process, the campus and local communities recognized an opportunity to honor military heroes.

People in Barbourville and neighboring towns gave small gifts — usually $5 — “for each enlisted man serving” from the local area, according to a written history of the building. Those gifts made up the majority of the $45,000 needed to complete construction.

When the college built Robsion Arena in 1964, the older gymnasium fell out of use and into disrepair. It was, however, added to the National Register of Historical Places in 1985.

The college, which has a campus in London, is revitalizing the historical structure and is inviting people to add their loved ones to a new Tribute Wall on its main floor.

“Our administration has been about reclaiming our older buildings,” Union President Ed de Rosset said. “Not all buildings can or should be saved simply because they are old. But demolishing or continuing to neglect Soldiers and Sailors seemed a practice of poor stewardship and disrespect for a very important community memorial and architectural legacy.”

Renovations began in 2006. The lower-level of the building, which was once home to an indoor swimming pool, is now a workout space with cardio and weight-training equipment.

Once the main floor is finished, it will host intramural activities and be a space for campus or community events as available. De Rosset said community use of the space is important.

“Soldiers and Sailors came into being because the community joined with us in its creation,” he said. “That same spirit is behind this renovation. The building honors and pays tribute to people in and of our neighboring communities, so it’s crucial that they have opportunity to enjoy the space.”

To learn more about Soldiers and Sailors or to add a loved one’s name to the Tribute Wall, contact Denise Wainscott at 606-546-1218 or

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